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Nintendo needs to embrace iOS as a games platform


In 2011, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata vowed that his company would absolutely not create games for iOS devices. That same year saw the launch of the 3DS, Nintendo's new hope for mobile gaming dominance.

Now, in 2013, with its marquee home console, the Wii U, thoroughly underperforming in sales and the 3DS falling considerably short of its predecessor's performance over the 28 months since its release, it's time for Iwata-san to reconsider. I believe Nintendo could be successful making games for iOS, and it's the kind of "creative destruction" that's necessary to keep the gaming giant relevant in the App Store era.

Times have changed

When the original Nintendo DS hit the market in 2004, the Motorola RAZR was all the rage. Since then, Nintendo has launched an all-new platform in the 3DS. Fliphones have given way to smartphones, with current devices like the iPhone 5 producing gaming experiences that oftentimes surpass those of dedicated portable gaming systems. Mobile gaming is now dominated by app stores, and a franchise like Angry Birds can draw downloads by the billions.

There's still room for a console like the 3DS, and that's made clear by the fact that its sales are still climbing. Profits from the 3DS have saved Nintendo from fiscal disaster with the Wii U. However, with 32.5 million units sold over the first 27 months of availability, the 3DS still falls well short of the 40.3 million units the original DS was able to move in the same amount of time. The ground is ever so slowly shrinking beneath Nintendo's feet.

On top of this, Nintendo -- perhaps more than any other company -- has franchises that are perfectly suited to life on the iPhone and iPad. Pokémon, Animal Crossing, and even the various iterations of Mario could be easily adapted for iOS. With the generally outstanding quality of first-party Nintendo releases, there should be little doubt that these games would be fantastic. It's hard to imagine a Mario Kart, Pikmin, or WarioWare title not taking the App Store by storm.

"But why iOS? Why not Android?"

Simple: Apple already caters to many principles Nintendo believes in. Most notable in this regard is piracy prevention. It's the reason Nintendo often chooses irregular media formats for its devices, such as the tiny GameCube optical discs, and why the company has aggressively fought the sale of devices like the R4 card which mimics a DS game card. Unlike Android, Apple's marketplace is highly policed even before software is put up for sale, meaning Nintendo would have less concern over losing money to cracked versions of its games.

Google Play generates more app downloads overall, but when it comes to monetization the iOS App Store blows the doors off of Google Play. iOS apps generated more than double the revenue of Google Play, and if there's one thing that would push Nintendo to build mobile games for a platform other than its own, it's cash.

Will it happen?

I'm not going to say it will definitely happen, but it could, and it most definitely should. Nintendo has already shown that it's not entirely against the idea of iOS apps in general with the release of its Pokédex app. Right now, the Pokédex is seated in the top 25 of the reference section, after having been released in March. But it's not a game, and games are what Nintendo is (obviously) known for.

The company may have been just testing the waters with the release of the Pokédex, but from there it's not exactly a stretch to publish a proper game, whatever it might be, on the App Store as well. Nintendo knows that people would buy its titles on iOS, and it knows the money is here waiting, so it may be just a matter of time before it decides to cash the check.

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